Archive for May 28, 2016

Trupti Shah (1962 – 2016) : A tribute

Trupti Shah

By Sahiyar Team

The women’s movement, the environmental cause, the struggle for justice has lost a voice that never flinched from standing up for victims of exploitation, injustice and violence. Trupti Shah (54) left us on May 26, 2016 in Vadodara after a valiant battle against lung cancer.

Trupti, an economist by training, centered her lifelong activism primarily on women’s issues, constantly drawing its intersections with development, environment, communal strife, caste, labour and human rights issues.

With parents, Thakorbhai Shah, a known labour union leader and mother Suryakanta Shah, active in public life, Trupti was drawn into people’s struggles very early in her life.

Trupti always attributed her initiation into activism to her parents. In her own words, “I inherited the spirit, ‘not to tolerate any injustice’ from my father who left his career as journalist and Gandhian ideology to fight against injustice and became a Marxist-Trotskyist and Trade unionist. Along with him and other younger comrades from the Communist League, a Trotskyist group, I witnessed or participated in most of the major movements that emerged in Gujarat in the 1970s. My involvement in the women’s movement has its roots in these experiences.’’

Her first experience of people’s movement was in 1973 when she was just 11-years old. She, with five other girls was detained in the state home of children for three days for participating with the elders in the anti-price rise movement that started in Vadodara to protest Rs. 1 hike in milk prices. She was soon to actively participate in the ensuing Nav Nirman Andolan and anti-Emergency movement. A product of Maharaja Sayajirao University’s distinctive academic atmosphere from her kindergarten studies, Trupti was to plunge into the women’s movement from her student days. And that turned into her lifelong passion.

As a young 18 year old, unlike most other Gujarati youth, she became active in the Communist League (CL), the Indian section of the Fourth International, which supported autonomous women’s movement world over. Dr. Vibhuti Patel, one of the leading activists of the Communist League was to mentor Trupti’s initiation in the autonomous women’s movement. Dr. Neera Desai, a renowned sociologist and feminist, too was a major influence on Trupti’s young mind and her work for women’s rights.

When the nationwide movement for reopening the Mathura Rape Case seeking amendments in legal provisions related to rape was started, Trupti was a part of the forum, Narishoshan Virodhi Samiti(Committee to Resist Exploitation against Women) to be initiated in Vadodara. Disenchanted with the apathy of women political leaders towards gender based violence, she participated as perhaps the youngest delegate in the first conference of Autonomous Women’s Movement organised in Bombay in 1980. The proceedings sharpened the need in her to start something afresh in Vadodara for women’s rights. And so she resolved:  ‘there is a need to have an autonomous women’s organisation in Baroda which will uphold the interest of women above all other issues and political affiliation.’ And the rest of her life became a persistent effort towards building such an organisation.

An effort of several years and like-minded friends resulted in Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan) an initiative led by the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda students in 1984. The overriding consciousness resulted in an organisation by women and for women with the long term aim to work towards a society free from inequality, injustice and atrocity – a society where women enjoy equal status and recognition as human beings. Resisting communal forces and fundamentalists of all hues, in striving to uphold the principles of equality and non-discrimination, soon became central to all Sahiyar’s initiatives.
Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan) is a feminist group in Vadodara. She was one of its founder members. Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan) works for women’s rights and strives to create awareness among society on women’s issues. She was involved in awareness programmes like street theatre, organising workshops, training, participatory research and publication on behalf of the organisation. She was also involved in counseling of adolescent girls and women and providing legal support to them.

Her concerns were not limited to only women’s issues. She brought gender perspective to other public concerns such as environment, civil liberties, human rights, anti-communalism and all just causes. 

She was involved with several social / voluntary organisations since her student days and undertook community work and social awareness work through these organisations.

One such organization being Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), an organisation working on the issues related to environmental rights and awareness. As also a part of PSS, Trupti brought in her impeccable research and analytical skills and her understanding of human environment in identifying and studying the rampant environmental degradation and displacement of adivasis in the name of development for land grabbing and privatization. The concerns highlighted by her have found their expression in the changing environment over time, which only goes to showcase the depth of her understanding. Her thorough approach and holistic understanding of environmental issues, helped in preparation for legal action, an important aspect of her action-oriented approach. 
She was also involved with People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), as well as the Radical Socialist.

Trupti brought her expertise and sensitivities of women’s rights to other struggles and every major social upheaval that she responded to – during the anti-Narmada dam agitation, the anti-nuclear protests at Mithivirdi area, the fight against industrial pollution in Gujarat, the 2002 Gujarat Carnage, the various government undertaken slum demolition drives, and raised environmental concerns in Gujarat from time to time including in respect of the Statue of Unity project, Garudeshwar Weir project and the recent Vishwamitri Riverfront Development project, flagging the environmental violations, livelihood issue and damage being caused by the projects.

Her academic association with MSU continued simultaneously; in various capacities – as a researcher, teacher, and as academic coordinator with the Women’s Studies Research Center and later in the faculty of commerce and faculty of social work as well.

She infused her academic expertise in her activism, translating it into action-oriented work at the grassroot level. Whether she was involved in preparing training manuals for NGOs, reviewing exercises, conducting training programmes, community programmes, she combined her academic brilliance with radical activism. She constantly flagged concerns and violations of all kinds with a rare passion.

She earned her Ph.D. for her thesis, “Economic Status of Women in Urban Informal Sector – A study of Baroda City” from MSU in 2000.

She continued to write extensively, with her unwavering faith in the collective women’s movement. She took great satisfaction in the four part: ‘Nari Andolanno Itihas’ (History of Women’s Movement), a series of books on the History of women’s movement in 4 parts in Gujarati, Published by UNNATI and Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan), (2011).

During her last days, she was most concerned about the violations in the Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project case, especially related to the river’s bio-diversity, environmental degradation, loss of livelihoods. Her concern to her last breath: behno na adhikar ni vaat loko nathi sambhadta….nadi, Paryavaran ni vaat loko samjhe to saru-People are apathetic to women’s rights….it would be good if they understand the issue of river, environment.
She is survived by her fellow comrade, activist, friend and companion, Rohit Prajapati, who has been her partner in her efforts and pillar of support, and her son, Manav, amongst other family and friends.

Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan),

Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS)

Jisha rape and murder: Women’s network demands action against police officials who refused to file FIR

Jisha-rape-case

statement issued by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements

We, condemn the gruesome incident of heinous rape and murder of a 30-year old law student from Kuruppamapdy, villageVattolippidi Canal Bund near Perumbavoor in Kerala’s Ernakulam district. On the evening of April 28th 2016, her mother, a daily-wage labourer returned home to find her youngest daughters body mutilated, raped and murdered. She was studying for her law exams at home when the incident took place. Her body had 38 injuries, including in the genitals.

We are appalled at the apathy extended towards the family by the State, Administration and the Mainstream Media. Police refused to file First Information Report on the night of April 28th 2016, when, mother of Victim approached them . After five full days of inaction and pressure by Dalit Activists in Kerela FIR was registered. Additionally, the mainstream media’s handling of the case stands in violation of the law that prohibits the use of the name of the victim/survivor in media. However this case saw a parading of the dead victim. Her photos were paraded by mainstream media and circulated. Denying the Dalit women respect and dignity even in Death.

The victims family was a woman headed-household who were continuously harassed by the middle caste/class neighborhood by denying them access to water, and other daily resources. Despite that the family continued to struggle and survive. The daughter soon after getting admission earlier, owing to poor financial conditions , had to give up her studies at one point of time. Later she was determined to pursue her law degree hoping to work towards access to justice for the poor and marginalised.  Her entry into the educational institutions is part of the in-roads / upward social mobility, made by the Dalit-Bahujan community in spaces of higher education that have been historically denied to them. The rape and murder of this student is a retaliation of this occupying of public space by a Dalit woman. Further the community in shunning the incident by putting the blame on the ‘outsider’ the migrant labourer.

This rape is not a stand alone incident in the daily violence meted out on Dalit bodies in their access of public spaces in Kerala . To cite few cases in the recent past , just two days back a Dalit nursing student was raped inVarkala, Thiruvananthapuram and also Chitralekha a Dalit auto riksha driver has been continuously harassed by CPI (M)goons since 2004. The incidence stands in a long list of state apartheid towards the Dalit community. In kerala crime rate  against SCs is 26.8 and that against STs is 27.8 .( the All india crime rate for SCs  is 23.4 and STs is 11.0- NCRB 2014)

Caste based violence and gender based violence don’t work in isolation but are hand-in-glove with each other. They have to be placed in the larger history of violence meted out on the basis of caste and gender. The inter-sectionality works in insidious manner through the bodies of women. We see gender based violence tied with casted based violence both of which are used as tools of violence and discrimination and perpetuated by the State and its machinery. Caste is the underlying reality of the country; hence attempt at looking at gender-based violence minus the caste reality of it is a gross injustice to understanding gender-based violence. As collectives committed towards a non-funded grassroots effort started in November 2009, to put an end to the violence being perpetrated upon our bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising of women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberty organizations, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on our women and girls by any perpetrator(s).

We demand
1. Immediate Arrest of the accused involved
2. Speedy trial of the case as per Criminal law Amendment Act 2013 & SC/ST POA Act 1989
3. Competent legal representation of the victim
4. State to provide adequate compensation to the family of the deceased .
5. Independent inquiry by NHRC ,NCW and NCSC  
6. Action against police officials who refused to file an FIR on day of the incident as per S.166a

Statement on the rape and murder of Dalit woman in Kerala

kerala-rape-and-murder

Jisha’s rape and murder reaffirms how the bodies of Dalit women become sites for the most brutal forms of exercise of caste oppression accentuated by patriarchal power, where the control of and violence on women’s bodies become powerful mechanisms for upholding a Brahminical patriarchal order

By Pinjratod

On 28th April’16, Rajeshwari a daily wage labourer and a single parent, returned home to her one-room house at Kuruppampady village in Kerela at night, to find the body of her younger daughter, raped, mutilated and murdered. Her daughter, who was a Dalit student, had to discontinue her BA degree within a year due to financial constrains. However, she was not one to give up and had been enrolled as an LLB student of Ernakulum Law College since 2010. “She wants to fight for people like us, poor people, those who have been discriminated against,” says Rajeswari as she lies in the hospital, in shock and trauma, unable to accept her daughter’s sudden and tragic demise. Rajeshwari had rushed to the nearby police station on that fatal night, where not surprisingly, the police refused to file her case, “wait for the postmortem” they claimed, ensuring that any ‘crucial evidence’ would essentially be lost in the meantime. Five long days passed since the murder. There were no investigations, there were no arrests, there were no marches or media outrage. There was only a deafening silence and a disturbing apathy. This was not the first time Rajeswari had gone to the police station. She had lived in her one room state-allocated house for 40 years, and during that long period, all she and her family had faced was hostility and severe caste discrimination from their neighbours: their water pipes were destroyed and the women-only family was forced to draw water from a nearby canal, they were not allowed to build toilet in their house, stones were regularly pelted at their small home, they had received threats of murder and the two daughters were subject to constant sexual harassment from neighbourhood men. The police refused any action in all cases, despite repeated complaints.

After five days of silence, news of the rape and murder started to slowly appear in social media due to the efforts of Dalit Bahujan voices, forcing the mainstream media to respond. The mainstream media reports have been accompanied by sickening, voyeuristic and vivid descriptions of the ‘brutality’ of the rape, characteristic of the way in which Dalit bodies are denied respect and dignity even in death. “Kerala’s Nirbhaya”, screamed the media, while the Malayali savarna middle class unable to imagine such ‘barbarity’ to their kind, claimed (in typical display of their xenophobia), that the perpetrators “must be migrant workers”.

The ‘merit’ of the Dalit student had to be interrogated. ‘She had three papers left to clear”, the savarna media hinted slyly, as suspicions on her ‘character’ were raised “why did she not scream? why she did she not call out for help? how could this have happened inside her own house?”. The name and photograph of the ‘victim’ was flashed without consent across media in violation of the law

The media insensitivity that characterises this problematic act of naming, has been subsequently challenged by the emerging movement demanding Justice for Jisha by fighting against the very shaming in anticipation of which the law forbids the name of a sexual violence ‘victim’ from being revealed. However, in a context of upcoming elections in Kerela, the rape and murder of a Dalit woman has now become an ‘agenda’ for the predatory parties to capitalise on, to appropriate. The matter ‘shook’ the Rajya Sabha yesterday, where PJ Kurein, one of the primary accused in the Suryanelli rape case in Kerela, had the audacity to express his condemnation of this ‘heinous’ and ‘shameful’ crime.

The violence that was inflicted on the body of Jisha and what has unfolded thereafter, is not an ‘exception or an ‘aberration’ in Kerela’s ‘progressive’ society  whose impressive HDI (Human Development Index) credentials we are constantly reminded of. In fact,  it is characteristic of the tremendous everyday violence and oppression that is inherent to that state, and this country where Dalit lives are crushed, humiliated, maimed, killed, murdered and destroyed everyday with impunity.

Jisha’s rape and murder, like Delta Meghwal’s death, reaffirms how the bodies of Dalit women become sites for the most brutal forms of exercise of caste oppression accentuated by patriarchal power, where the control of and violence on women’s bodies become powerful mechanisms for upholding a Brahminical patriarchal order. Patriarchal and caste oppression do not operate in isolation, but inherently reinforce each other. When located in the context/history of persistent castiest and patriarchal violence faced by Rajeshwari’s family and the structural negligence of the police, the rape and murder of Jisha is not unimaginable or unanticipated, and almost constitutes the chronicles of a rape foretold. As some form of police investigation of this crime finally begins, we are met with the news of the rape of a 19yr old Dalit nursing student by three men in an auto in the coastal town of Varkala in Kerela. Our rage and anger is hence not to be limited to the ‘atrocity’ of the ‘gruesome’ nature of Jisha’s murder, but has to lead to a persistent struggle towards a structural annihilation of this Brahminical society that violently denies through innumerable everyday acts and practices, a life of dignity and equality to Dalits. 

Rajeswari’s all-women household was a ‘dangerous’ entity, a collective of women struggling and surviving and  a Dalit working class woman seeking education and entry into a profession dominated by savarna men, was a direct threat to a Brahminical and patriarchal society. The ‘outside’ streets and the neighbourhood never belonged to Rajeswari, Jisha and Deepa. But even their ‘home’ that defied the dictates of a patriarchal world which mandates male control over families, was not to have any illusion of ‘safety’. It was to be always vulnerable to stones, to abuse, to ostracisation and to attack by this disgusting casteist society, that all savarnas (including women) are complicit in perpetuating. This resistance, this deviation by Dalit women was an ‘audacity’ that was not to tolerated, it had to silenced, it had to be dismantled.

Pinjratod is an autonomous collective effort to ensure secure, affordable and not gender-discriminatory accommodation for women students across Delhi